According to the ROKN, the ship is currently in the long term conception phase . This means that the design has not been finalized and may change depending on operational requirements in the future.
The limited information available suggests that the ship will have a light displacement of 5,000 tons and carry up to 80 missiles. It will primarily be used for surface strike, but will also carry anti-ship missiles as well as basic air defence systems. It is likely the surface strike element will consist of a mix of the Hyunmoo (현무)-2 ballistic missiles and the Hyunmoo-3 cruise missiles. A total of two to three ships will be built and commissioned in the late 2020s according to a News1 story published last year.
The utility of the arsenal ship for the Republic of Korea Navy has been hotly debated. The debate ultimately comes down to whether or not one views North Korea as the most pressing military threat. Those who do, argue that the South Korean arsenal ship will be an invaluable strategic asset. According to them, the threat posed by a North Korean first strike on land-based missile bases makes it necessary for South Korea to develop a second strike capability. These bases are easier to target with ballistic missiles, artillery, and even special forces operations. Ship based assets, on the other hand, are significantly more secure against a North Korean attack. This is because North Korea has virtually no long range anti-ship missiles that can be fired from shore.
Those who think other neighbouring countries pose a greater security threat cast doubt on the viability of a South Korean arsenal ship. To begin with, they claim such a ship would not be very survivable alone because it will not have any long range air defence capabilities. This means that in a conflict with more capable adversaries than North Korea, the arsenal ship will have to be accompanied by several escorts. The ROKN already has its hands full escorting its other strategic assets. The burden on the ROKN is likely to grow as it acquires a light aircraft carrier in the early 2030s. Moreover, the loss of a single arsenal ship will lead to a massive reduction in strategic capabilities. Therefore, critics claim the ROKN should reconsider placing all its veritable eggs in a single basket that is unlikely to survive a high intensity conflict.
Arsenal ship funding in question as CVX takes center stage
Doubts also linger as to whether the program will be affordable. At MADEX 2021 the exhibition hall was dominated by aircraft carrier related displays. There were no displays dedicated to the arsenal ship program. ROKN officers declined to comment when Naval News approached them to ask about the arsenal ship. Given the resistance against both the aircraft carrier and arsenal ship program, it seems unlikely the ROKN will continue with both simultaneously. For now, the ROKN seems to be primarily focused on securing funds for its already controversial aircraft carrier, rather than broaching the equally thorny arsenal ship program.